Expanding air quality monitoring in schools

Wednesday, 14 September, 2022

Expanding air quality monitoring in schools

The CleanAir Schools pilot program, developed by UNSW researchers, will be expanded to more schools over the next two years.

The $1.9 million program monitors air quality both inside and outside classrooms. It will roll out to 100 schools, helping to teach students practical ways to reduce pollution levels.

The installation of world-leading, low-cost air quality sensors at partner schools will help researchers map air quality as part of a broader program monitoring the changing environment.

UNSW Associate Professor Donna Green said it is fantastic to be able to extend the program more widely to schools throughout NSW and, in time, nationally.

“Air quality has become a hot topic of conversation in recent years due to environmental factors such as the 2020 bushfires and hazard reduction burns. While our pilot program shows that generally we have good air quality inside and outside schools, expanding this program will enable us to develop guidance to schools on what to do during adverse events,” Green said.

CleanAir schools

NSW schools participating in the program will have two air quality sensors installed — one indoors and one outdoors — that will operate over two years. The sensors are portable and are either powered by solar panels for outdoor installation or plugged into existing electricity outlets for inside installation.

The air quality sensors, and associated weather stations, use calibrated sensors that can provide data at 5-minute intervals to measure particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature and relative humidity.

Green said that the air quality sensors enable real-time access to local air quality.

“Collecting accurate air quality data is an important first step. From this network of readings, we will be able to help design easy-to-implement policies that can improve air quality in schools,” she said.

Claremont College in Randwick, NSW, participated in the CleanAir Schools pilot in 2021. A combination of indoor and outdoor sensors was installed and maintained by CleanAir Schools project staff.

Doug Thomas, Principal of Claremont College, said: “Being able to monitor the quality of air at our school has been incredibly useful. We are keen to understand how best we can protect our children’s health during the next bushfire season. We are also excited to trial the Energy Transformers program with our children next year.”

STEM educational program for CleanAir schools

From 2023, schools can participate in the ‘Energy Transformers’ STEM educational program which helps to explain how their data from air quality monitoring connects to local and global energy and environment issues.

Energy Transformers, a solutions-focused approach to promoting STEM education is funded by the UNSW Digital Grid Futures Institute and will be rolled out as part of the upper primary curriculum.

“Energy Transformers explains the links between energy choices, climate change, air pollution and human health. The program uses air pollution as a tangible and novel way to explain the links between these issues to students who will grow up in a vastly different world than we know today,” Green said.

“This program is designed to prepare children for a range of skills and exciting new employment options connected to Australia’s renewable energy transformation.”

Image credit: iStock.com/INDU BACHKHETI

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